The buses that typically travel through Denali National Park are idle in storage yards in the Denali Borough, lined up row after row. Each one represents several jobs lost this year in Alaska’s tourism economy.
Gone are the shifts of drivers, the people who clean the buses, the people who maintain them, the people who sell parts and prepare meal for the bus fleet crews. It’s a snapshot of a tourism industry that has come to a standstill in Alaska, one that has just five fleeting months of employment in a normal year.
Unemployment claims in Alaska in June broke the record books. During a time when there’s usually more work available in the 49th state, Alaskans are struggling with a nearly 12.5 percent unemployment rate average statewide.
Some locales have done better than others — many government workers are enjoying the ability to work from home, for example. But overall unemployment claims tell the story of other families heading into a winter of worry.
Initial filings for unemployment in June totaled 30,580, a nearly 800 percent increase from June of 2019, when there were just 3,413 filings.
Continued filings in June were 600 percent higher than June of 2019: 188,961 in June of 2020 vs. 26,857 last year.
And the number of claims was 572 percent higher year over year: 46,481 this year vs. 6,912 last year.
Unemployment in Alaska is higher than it was during the recession of the late 1980s. Job growth dropped to negative numbers, and wages have slumped, according to the Alaska Department of Labor, where Commissioner Tamika Ledbetter described the situation as “tough.”
This fall and winter will be worse, employers told Must Read Alaska. While in normal years, seasonal workers would leave in mid-September, in this year, there are no seasonal workers. The full-time workers laid off this past spring won’t be coming back until the spring of 2021 at the earliest.
In an indication that workers are leaving the state, the rental vacancy rate is growing and is now 9.2 percent. Juneau has the lowest vacancy rate at 4.4 percent, while Fairbanks has the highest, at 19 percent.
As the fireweed hits its final stage of gossamer plume, Alaskans may be facing economic hardships this winter, as they wait out a pandemic that has destroyed so much of their lives already.